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Taliban responsible for 77% of civilian casualties in Afghanistan, U.N. report says

By Jon Stephenson, McClatchy Newspapers –

KABUL, Afghanistan — The Taliban and other insurgent groups were responsible for nearly 80 percent of the civilian deaths in the war in Afghanistan last year, said a U.N. report released Saturday.

The report said the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan documented 3,021 civilian deaths in the conflict in 2011 — up 8 percent from 2010, which saw 2,790 deaths, and an increase of 25 percent from 2009, when 2,412 civilians were killed.

The U.N. said “anti-government elements” — shorthand for the Taliban and other insurgent groups — were responsible for 2,332, or 77 percent, of conflict-related deaths in 2011, up 14 percent from 2010.

The report said 410 civilian deaths, or 14 percent of the 2011 total, were caused by operations by “pro-government forces,” or Afghan, U.S. and international security forces — a drop of 4 percent from 2010. A further 279 deaths, or 9 percent of civilian fatalities, could not be blamed on any side.

A leading Afghan politician and women’s rights activist labeled Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar a hypocrite and called his followers terrorists in the wake of a U.N. report into civilian casualties in Afghanistan.

“Civilian casualties by any side are not acceptable,” said Fawzia Kufi, a member of Parliament and head of the National Assembly’s women’s affairs committee. She said the Afghan government as well as U.S. and international forces had to accept responsibility for not doing enough to protect innocent Afghans in the conflict.

But the Taliban had made terrorism the centerpiece of their strategy in Afghanistan. “They go for terrorist attacks,” said Kufi, “They are intentionally targeting civilians.”

Kufi accused the Taliban and Omar of hypocrisy and dishonesty.

“Mullah Omar said during (last year’s Muslim festival of) Eid that civilian casualties were unacceptable, and that deliberately killing civilians was a breach of human rights,” but the insurgents were attacking more civilians than previously, she said.

The U.N. report said the record loss of life of Afghan children, women and men “resulted from changes in the tactics of anti-government elements and changes in the effects of tactics of parties to the conflict.”

Insurgents “used improvised explosive devices more frequently and more widely across the country, conducted deadlier suicide attacks yielding greater numbers of victims, and increased the unlawful and targeted killing of civilians,” the report said.

The Taliban were targeting civilians as an act of terror, said Kufi, because they were being defeated by U.S. and international forces, but “they cannot justify their actions.”

Attempts Saturday to reach Taliban spokesmen for comment were not successful.

Abdul Hakim Mujahid, a member of Afghanistan’s High Peace Council, which is tasked with promoting negotiations with the insurgency, and formerly the Taliban ambassador to the U.N., told McClatchy on Saturday that he had not read the U.N. report. He described Kufi’s criticism of the Taliban as “a media fight.”

“I have absolutely no comment,” said Mujahid.

U.S. Gen. John R. Allen, who commands U.S. and international forces in Afghanistan, said they would continue to do everything possible to reduce Afghan civilian casualties.

Allen said the drop in deaths caused by US and international forces was promising, “but there is more work to be done.” Civilian deaths from air attacks — conducted mostly by U.S. forces — rose in 2011, despite a drop in the number of those attacks.

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